What about Women Wearing Pants?
I have to admit that I dread answering this one. Not that it is unimportant and not that it is an improper question. It is a good question. But it seems to generate too much unprofitable venom and hatred–from both sides. I will answer it and we will put the question and answer up, but I state here and now that I will ignore the challenges that come in questioning my sincerity, integrity, intelligence, spirituality, etc.
I must begin by describing my understanding of how the New Testament teaches us to live holy, separated lives. (Of course, this is an extremely brief summary.) I see the do’s and don’ts of daily living as being taught on about three levels.
The first level is that of COMMAND. Though we are not under the law, we still have commandments to follow. For example, Paul said, “Let him that stole steal no more” (Ephesians 4:28). There are many such commands in the Bible and some of these deal with appearance. These commands are not to be questioned; they are to be obeyed.
The second level is that of CONCLUSION. This is the most difficult level for me to define. What I mean is that direct teachings of the Bible can be logically put together and shown to establish a very strong conclusion as to how we should or should not do something. A good example of this is my teaching against gambling. There is no such verse as “Thou shalt not gamble.” However, gambling by its very nature and practice goes against numerous commands and teachings of scripture. We can safely conclude that it is wrong.
The third level is what I will call CONVICTION. This is a word that is used by different people in different ways today. One definition is that a conviction is something for which you would die. Let me stress, this is not the way in which I am using the word. I use conviction to refer to those decisions of holy living or principle that come from God working specifically in an individual believer’s heart. This is what Paul spoke of when he said, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5
). I think personal convictions are those opportunities to serve God by giving more of ourselves to Him than He specifically commands. They are statements of love to our Lord.
Now, you must be wondering, what does this have to do with women wearing pants? It means that we must begin with the commandments that God gives. Then, we draw the most reasonable conclusions we can from these commandments. And, finally, we must apply these conclusions to our own lives according the convictions God gives us. This gives us an outline by which to approach the subject. And, since it is such a volatile subject, it is good to have such a plan.
So, what are the commands about dress? A long article or book might spend more time developing this, but I want to begin with three principles that I think are clearly commanded in scripture. Though there is some conclusion here, I believe they are rock-solid conclusions (though I will not take the space to build the case from scripture). Here are the three principles:
Our appearance (these principles fit both men and women) must be modest. Clothing must modestly clothe the body and avoid bring undue attention to the flesh.
Our appearance must be moderate. That is, we should avoid extravagant, gaudy, or showy outfits.
Our appearance must be gender-specific. By this, I mean that God wants a difference in appearance between men and women. A man is to look like a man and a woman like a woman. This is seen in the importance put on hair length (1 Corinthians 11:14-15
). It is also seen in the Old Testament stress on different clothing for men and women (Deuteronomy 22:5
). A lot of people just want to throw this verse out. But it is there for our instruction (2 Timothy 3:16
). We may not be under the law, but we can still learn from it. This verse teaches that God does not want men dressing up to look like women or women dressing up to look like men. God considers cross-dressing an abomination. Therefore, He wants our clothing to be gender-specific.
Now, if these are the commands (at least, generally) concerning clothing, what are the reasonable conclusions concerning women wearing pants? That is, do any of the principles apply here? Well, one does not. That is the principle of moderation. There is nothing particularly extravagant or showy about pants (though anything can be made to be showy). But it is best to leave it for other questions.
The other two principles do apply however. As I have learned over the years, how much they apply is a much disputed point. But let us consider them. Are pants on women modest? And, are they gender-specific? My conclusion: Many pants on women are definitely immodest. They are made to be so; to draw the eye of men–and often women now. Are all pants on women immodest? I will say this–some pants (the baggy or masculine kind) are more modest that a lot of the skirts that are worn today. So, although I think there is a tendency to immodesty when the clothing of women closely takes the shape of the body, this is a mixed answer. Some pants are terribly immodest; some not much at all.
Second, are pants gender specific? That is, do the pants identify women as women? Again, this is a mixed answer. Certainly, women’s pants are cut differently than men’s pants. They often have frills and such that distinguish them. On the other hand, many women today are wearing pants that make them look like men. Certainly, this goes against the teaching that our clothing is to be gender specific. In fact, by their historical connection and by their cultural usage, we still understand pants to be the clothing of men. Just look at the universal restroom signs. But, still, I see some room for argument here.
So, you say, it is just a matter of opinion. Well, perhaps it is not that easy either. The trick is to find a pair of pants that is both modest and feminine. But here is the trouble. Generally speaking, the more modest a pair of pants is, the more masculine it looks. There goes gender specific. But, on the other hand, the more feminine a pair of pants becomes, the more immodest it becomes. The wearing of pants by godly ladies (and I know some godly ladies who wear pants) becomes a tightrope walk. Go too far one direction and you look like a man; go too far the other direction and you attract the men.
Therefore, for me and my house, we decided years ago to forgo pants for the ladies of our family. However, I recognize that this decision is part conclusion (though I think a good one) and part conviction. And, since I see the importance of the conviction part of this decision, I do not beat people up with it all the time. When a lady decides to do away with the pants, she will often be attacked by friends and family alike. She needs to know in her own heart that it is the right thing to do. She needs to do it from strong personal conviction or else submit to the strong personal conviction of her husband.
Many good people will not reach my conclusion. I am reconciled to that. I will not ostracize them or attack them for this difference. We are losing ground on so many important fronts. I fear that we too quickly get sidetracked on sub-issues. Of course, some will be offended that I have called this a sub-issue. However, the issue of holiness is much more important and we gravely ill in this area of our spiritual lives. Dress is only one aspect of a much larger arena. We need to keep our perspective.